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Without Keane, Sunderland Flirt With Relegation

Roy Keane Without Keane, Sunderland Flirt With Relegation

Is Roy Keane smirking right now? Is he rolling his eyes? Both?

For two years Sunderland was Roy Keane’s baby. He took the struggling side, nurtured it back to health and delivered it from the relegation zone of the Championship and back to the top flight. In every transfer window he made moves to improve the squad. Once back at the top, the goal was to dig Sunderland’s feet in and avoid the old yo-yo effect. Stay up. Stay up.

And while they only finished three points from the drop zone, Sunderland didn’t look in danger at the end of 2007/08 and 39 points was an amazing feat compared to their last Premier League finish: 15 points and 20th spot in 2006.

The season began as expected with a balance of wins, draws and losses and Sunderland enjoyed reaching as high as sixth in the League table. But six losses in seven matches led to Keane’s departure. Intense pressure from the board in light of the bad results was too much for Mr Keane. He resigned in early December. Directly before a trip to Old Trafford to face his old club.

Now, I recognize it was Keane’s decision to leave, but doesn’t it seem painfully obvious that the board could have found a more constructive way to work through Sunderland’s problems? Unrelenting pressure at this level is inevitable, especially when the threat of relegation comes into the equation. But boards are too quick to come down on the manager rather than work with him through a rut. It is a foreign concept for boards to think, We’ve got the same goals, let’s fight through this together.

And while Roy Keane may not have been ready for the pressure of leading a struggling premiership side, this would have been an ideal time for Sunderland’s powers-that-be to show their support for the man’s learning process. One six-loss rut in the larger picture of all that Keane had done for Sunderland seems workable. Sure, if the results are not turned around in January, questions need to be asked and a sacking or a resignation may well be in order.

But clearly, Sunderland have gained nothing by letting Roy Keane go.

Interim manager Ricky Sbragia hasn’t turned Sunderland’s results around and now, unless they defeat Chelsea this weekend, their fate will rely on the outcomes of other matches. Newcastle at Villa and Hull hosting Manchester United.

Hull, who scored three goals on United at Old Trafford will put up a fight, and Sir Alex Ferguson is expected to rest his best for the upcoming Champions League final, having won the league already.

Newcastle have a mammoth task playing Villa away, especially with defender Sebastien Bassong suspended. But there’s nothing like facing relegation to inspire a side to glory.

Sunderland will be praying one of the two drop points. But there are no restfull nights in the Blackcats’ week ahead. And even if they survive, the fact that they are in this position in the last weekend is proof enough Keane’s departure didn’t do the club any favors.

Meanwhile, Roy Keane is probably pouring over the scouting reports, plotting his summer moves for Ipswich Town.

“I truly believe that I am joining a club that has the potential, ambition and infrastructure to once again be a Premier League side,” said Keane when appointed. If he returns to the top flight with Ipswich, prehaps he’ll be ready for the next bout of pressure. A good manager learns from past tribulations. Even if boards can’t.


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